Understanding Games as Art

What is a 'game'? In essence, a game is a challenge in which one wins or loses (or ties). A game is a sport, and for this reason is said to not be 'art'. I argue that games have transcended this primary function, and in disembarking from such, are art.

Take ceramics. People have been making bowls and cups for ages, and these utilities are made for a functional purpose: containing food.What happens when a few makers of ceramics decide to create their work with a certain aesthetic characteristic? What happens when the bowl is made with an intent that is no longer isolated to its functional purpose? It's art.

An example of Wabi-Sabi ceramic art, made by artist D. M. Coffey

My point in this example is to demonstrate a likely quality of art. At this point you'll be inclinded to say: "A definition of art, you say?! What an imperious assertion!" Hold your horses: I'm making an argument, so you're free to disagree or argee. I'm not stating it as fact; I'm proding the possibility that this conversation isn't as hard as we make it out to be. Let's continue!

A possible definiton of art: when a material is altered in such a way that it is perceived in ways distinct of that material's functional use.

When we see a street sign, we're unlikely to call it art because we're convinced the sign exists solely for a functional purpose. And yet with a little bit of tweaking, our perception of the sign is suddenly expanded into new territory: art.

A street sign edited by London artists Clet Abraham. 

"Examples, examples, now get to the point!" I've heard you, we're getting there, I promise! So, how does this apply to video games? Before we discuss the digital game, let's just talk about what a 'game' even is. Put simply, the primary function of a game is to provide an arena for competition. Consider chess. Roger Ebert, a name I assume you've heard of, argued that chess players have never sought to establish their 'game' as a work of art. Why then, would video game players? After all, the video game fulfills its functional purpose just as chess does. Who can argue that video games, like the multiplayer-only Team Fortress 2, does not exist primarily as an arena for combat in the same sense that chess is meant to provide an arena for a battle of wits?

Art made by deviantart user ah-darnit. 

Your natural reaction is exactly the point of my article: video games do seek to fulfill their intended purpose, (an arena for sport), and at the same time, provide perceptions that transcend the notion of 'game'. A video game is like a piece of pottery that can still be used as a functional tool, but can also be admired for its design, and the thoughts it produces in the beholder. I agree with Mr. Ebert: games that solely offer a platform for competition may not be altering or departing from the game's primary purpose, and so they may merely be glorified versions of chess, but I will argue that a game that invokes thoughts and feelings apart from sport itself is a game worthy of the title 'art'.

Taken from Journey


 (Counter-Strike fans, please don't hate me. I love you guys, but you might have to take one for the team.)

I hope what I've said seems like common sense, because as I type this now, I feel like I'm saying something that doesn't even need to be said. Maybe you agree with me, but if I've achieved anything in this article, it's that I've provided a clear and concise argument for why games can be art. Thank you for your time. Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments.

-Stefan Kowal

Some thoughts addressing potential issues:

Yes, one is free to define whatever (games, plungers) as whatever (artistic, beautiful), but let's actually have a solid argument to defend video games, okay?!

Along the same lines, yes, I can play a game of soccer and admire the genuis that went into creating the sport, but this doesn't necessarily mean that my understanding of soccer as anything other than a pretty game is a distinct departure from its function as a sport. I'd have to think the soccer game taught me something about life or that it represented an abstract notion of war or etc etc. I can admire just about anything for any possible quality if I put my mind to it. Society may look down on you if you try to argue the artistic significance of mouse pads, but they'd probably start to believe you if your mouse pads could defend themselves without your explanations. I hope video games establish such an ability in the near-future.

I'd also like to argue that video games, as an interactive medium, offer an experiential component that is not offered in any other medium, but we won't go there quite yet.

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